Lawyers and Legal Help


There are many ways to find legal help. Read the rest of this section to understand what types of legal help there are and which of them may be best for you.  Finding help is not easy. If you talk to someone but they cannot help you, ask them who can. Do not give up!

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Malpractice cases

If you are suing for medical malpractice, or some other type of professional negligence, the law says you need to prove that (1) the doctor or other professional breached (broke) the duty of care owed to you and (2) you suffered damages as a direct and proximate cause of the breach. These legal requirements are very hard to prove, and you will need expert witnesses to do it.  First, expert witness fees are very expensive. If you have a lawyer representing you on a “contingency” basis (meaning the lawyer only gets paid if you win), the lawyer will usually hire and pay for the expert witness upfront, so you will not have to reimburse the lawyer until the case is over. If you are representing yourself and do not have a lawyer to advance these costs, you may not be able to afford the experts you need to prove your case.  Also, getting an expert witness and establishing to the court that he or she is an expert can also be very complicated and should be handled by a trained and experienced lawyer.

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Construction defect cases

Construction defect cases often depend on expert witnesses to prove or disprove the allegations of the complaint. This may not be true of a small case in which the property owner hired a handyman or contractor to perform a single job on the property and 1 person performed all the work.  For example, if you hired a roofing contractor to install a new roof, and the new roof leaked, you may be able to sue the roofing contractor without a lawyer or expert witnesses because you may be able to prove on your own that (1) you hired the contractor to install a new roof, (2) you paid the contractor, (3) the roof leaked, and (4) the leaks caused damage.
But if you had several people working on your house (like an architect, a structural engineer, and a general contractor who, in turn, hired subcontractors and purchased supplies from different suppliers), proving who is at fault when something goes wrong becomes very difficult, and you would probably need an expert witnesses to determine fault and explain it to the court.
Also, while construction experts are usually not as expensive as medical experts, they can still cost a lot, especially if you need many experts in different specialties. Expert costs for these types of cases can run in the tens of thousands of dollars.
Some lawyers will take construction defect cases on a contingency basis, but most charge by the hour. You may be able to hire a lawyer on a limited-scope basis to help you with certain parts of the case, while you handle other parts on your own. Get more information on limited-scope representation.

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Cases involving competing title to real estate

Real estate cases that allege someone committed fraud, like cases in which there is competing title to real property, are usually too complicated for a person without a lot of legal training and experience. Also, even if you win, if you make a mistake in writing up the final order (in civil cases, the court generally does not prepare orders, it is up to the parties to do it), the title insurance company may not insure title, in effect preventing you, as the property owner, from selling or refinancing.

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Cases involving wrongful termination or employment discrimination claims

If you are suing your employer for employment discrimination or wrongful termination, you most likely will need a lawyer. Proving these cases is complicated and the employer’s lawyers usually fight these cases vigorously. To win this type of case, you must have a lawyer skilled in direct and cross-examination of witnesses and the rules of evidence.

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Administrative writs and appeals

Cases appealing a final decision by an administrative agency or hearing officer are extremely complicated and limited in the type of review the court can make. A lawyer can tell you if you have a sufficient basis in the record for an appeal and discuss other options with you.

Types of cases where lawyers are necessary 

Other types of cases

There are other types of cases that are difficult or impossible for non-lawyers to win because the law or procedure is extremely complex or because the cost of bringing the case to trial is high.

It is always best to consult with a lawyer before filing a lawsuit to make sure that the case is one you can bring with some chance of success. Most local bar associations have lawyer referral and information services that can provide you with a limited consultation with a lawyer for a small fee. You can also get some information from your court’s self-help center. Read our section on Free and Low-Cost Legal Help to learn about options in finding a lawyer and getting legal help.